6th Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day
ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - July 5, 2008 - 12:00am

The end of Spanish occupation in the Philippines is significantly marked by the surrender of the last Spanish soldiers who stood their ground for almost one year of siege in the church of San Luis de Toledo in Baler, Province of Quezon. On June 27, 1899, the remaining 33 Spanish soldiers that held their fort for 337 days of siege, without food and water, surrendered with white flags amid cheers of “Amigos, amigos! Friends, friends”! Thus was Baler the last bastion of Spanish occupation in the Philippines.

During my younger days, I had the opportunity to produce La Campana de Baler. The movie portrayed how the Spaniards refused to surrender to the Katipuneros, not being aware at that time that Spain had already lost the war. It told the story of a  Spanish soldier who scaled the walls of the church where the rest of the soldiers were holed out, at night to meet his girlfriend from the village. One time, a co-soldier caught him climbing the wall and he was shot. With his last breath, he uttered the words, “I just want you to know that I am not a deserter. I went out every night to visit my Filipina girlfriend, that’s all.” The movie depicted how close the relationship was among the local folks and the Spanish soldiers. When the siege ended, the Spaniards were not persecuted for all the atrocities they committed against the Filipinos. In fact, many of them married the local women after peace has been restored in the town. It gave the lesson that hatred can be covered by kindness and humility. Thus, the movie was given a prize in Spain. They were so inspired by the movie that they made their own version of Los Ultimos en Filipinas. “The Last Ones of the Philippines” the name given to the Spanish soldiers who fought in the Siege of Baler against the supporters of Philippine independence.

The Siege of Baler is a significant event in Philippine history, not only because of the valor and loyalty exhibited by the Spanish remnants who stood their ground until the end, but also the bravery and skill exhibited by the Katipuneros that led to Philippine victory. Most poignant is the legacy of friendship and reconciliation bequathed to the following generation. In a decree issued on June 30 that year, then President Emilio Aguinaldo, in an act of magnanimity, honored the “uncommon valor” of the Spanish soldiers. The same decree also granted the Spanish soldiers safe conduct passes and immediate return to Spain. After almost four centuries of Spanish occupation in the country capped by a long and bitter war, this gesture was truly reflective of Filipino kindness and fortitude. Hence, this became the basis for our commemoration of Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day at present.

Undoubtedly, Spanish culture and tradition is deeply embedded in our own culture and history. Spanish influence strongly manifests in our character, our looks, our music, our dances, our architecture, the food we cook and eat, the way we dress, the way we deal with people, our language, art and most of all, our religion. Jose “Pepe” Rodriguez, a veteran Manila-based journalist, writer and president of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Espanola and the Instituto Cervantes, said that “Filipinos will, undeniably, always have the Spanish in them.” However, he is saddened by the fact that most Filipinos still carry with them portraits of the evil Spaniard caricatures used by our past heroes in their revolution to free us from Spanish rule, for this is written in history. I believe that our youth also have a right to learn what is good and positive. Let the benevolence shown in this particular event in history be a good example for them.

We look forward to a more positive and productive Philippines-Spain relations in the future. La Amistad Duradeta. Let our friendship endure!


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